Kyoto, Japan Travel Guide

Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.

Japan National Tourist Organization’s self-guided “Kyoto Walks” pamphlet is available in a ready to print PDF format here[12]. The guide enables first time visitors to tour the city with ease and with minimum fuss by providing bus numbers, names of bus stops and clearly marked walking routes. There are a variety of self-guided walks in different districts to sample Kyoto’s various sites. If you see the browser’s dialog box popping up, just click on it till the entire PDF document opens.
World Heritage Sites

In 1994, 17 historic sites were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the group designation Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Fourteen of the listed sites are in Kyoto itself, two are in the neighbouring city of Uji and one is in Ōtsu.

Listed by location, the fourteen World Heritage Sites in the city of Kyoto are:

Northern Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji, Ninna-ji, Kōzan-ji, Shimogamo Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine

Central Kyoto: Nijō Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji, Tō-ji
Eastern Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji
Western Kyoto: Tenryū-ji, Koke-dera
Southern Kyoto: Daigo-ji

Imperial Palaces and Villas

Stroll through the regal retreats of the Imperial Palace or one of the two Imperial villas with gardens and teahouses managed by the Imperial Household Agency. These are the Imperial Palace (京都御所 Kyōto-gosho) and Sentō Imperial Palace (仙洞御所 Sentō-gosho) in Central Kyoto, Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮 Katsura-rikyū) in Western Kyoto, and Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮 Shugaku-in-rikyū) in Northern Kyoto. All four of these sites are open to the public by reservation through the Imperial Household Agency. The gardens located within the precints of each palace and villa are at their most scenic during spring cherry blossom season and autumn where a riot of colors enchant visitors. Each property is still used from time to time for official state functions or for private visits by the current royal family members.

The Imperial Household Agency maintains a quota on the number of visitors to each site per tour. Admission is free. English guides are available at the Imperial Palace; however, tours of the Sento Imperial Palace, Katsura Villa, and Shugakuin Villa are conducted in Japanese only (English pamphlets are given at each destination upon entry and books are available for purchase if you’d like to know more). Overseas visitors can apply online to the Imperial Household Agency in English here [13]. On its website are write ups and videos in English for interested visitors to gauge which ones they would like to visit before making an online application. Please note that advanced applications first become available on the first day of the month, three months in advance of the applicant’s preferred touring month. For example, if your preferred date of visit falls in the month of April, you can begin applying on January 1. As these visits are over subscribed by the Japanese and overseas visitors, the Imperial Household Agency has to draw lots to pick the successful applicants. All applicants are notified on the status of their applications whether they are successful or otherwise within a week after closing date. Most applicants to the Imperial Palace are accepted, and early reservation is not usually necessary; however, those planning to visit the Sentō Imperial Palace, or either of the Imperial Villas should apply on the first available day of application as they are highly competitive and entire months of tours often become full within the first few days. Winter tours are typically much less competitive, but be aware that the gardens will not be as beautiful as other times of the year.